Dan Smith remembers the boy next door marching up to the fence and asking, "You want to play Army with us?"
That was the first time Smith met Ron Randazzo. Ron was about 8, skinny with big, brown, eager eyes. Smith was 6 or 7.
The two boys became best friends, camping, fishing, hunting and planning their futures together. Smith, now 22, remembers one trip in which they caught more than 200 flounder.
At Ron's funeral tomorrow, a display of roses shaped like a fish will carry a card from Smith.
"I'll watch the fishing hole here," the card says. "You watch the fishing hole there. One day we'll meet up and do it all over again."
Ron Randazzo -- Army Sgt. Ronald Milton Randazzo, 24, commander of a Vulcan anti-aircraft tank in the Persian Gulf war -- was killed Feb. 20 along with his two crewmen when Iraqi fire struck their vehicle on a reconnaissance mission near the border of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. He was the war's first combat fatality from Maryland.
His funeral is tomorrow at 9 a.m. in the Church of the Crucifixion in Glen Burnie. He will be buried at Oak Lawn Cemetery on Eastern Avenue just east of the city line.
Visiting hours will be from 3 to 5 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. today at the Singleton funeral establishment in Glen Burnie. A Christian wake at the funeral establishment will begin at 8:30 p.m. today.
"I don't want to say he loved being over there," said Smith, a senior at High Point College in North Carolina. "But I think he loved what the service stands for. Service. To protect. To help the people. . . .
"If there ever was an all-American, average kid, it was Ron. There was nothing fancy about him, but nothing dull either. With Ron, you got Ron. He wasn't out to impress anybody."
A FAMILY TOGETHER
But he did impress practically everybody. And he impressed with traditional values: Love of God, country and family.
His family taught him that. Friends in Glen Burnie and teachers at Glen Burnie High School, where at least one of the six Randazzo children was a student from 1976 to 1989, never talked about Ron without mentioning his family.
"When I think of Ronny, I kind of think of the whole family as a unit," said John Moore, president of the Glen Burnie Boys Baseball and Girls Softball League. The Randazzo kids played in the league and their father coached. "A family so together is something you don't see much anymore," he said.
Their father, Paul Jr., described the family as "old-line Polish, old-line Italian." The cousins, from Highlandtown to Glen Burnie, are like brothers and sisters.
Ron was the fourth of the six children, five of them boys. He was tall, dark and handsome.
Friends said the children were always close to their parents, especially their mother, Leona. She declined to be interviewed for this story, but her husband said the family welcomes a story about Ron, who was especially close to his mother.
Like his brothers, Ron told her how beautiful she was and hugged and kissed her any time, any place. He made sure none of his friends ever used foul language in front of her.
"If anybody mentioned my kids, I never had to worry about what they were going to say," Paul Randazzo said. "And that was because of their mother. I was working all the time."
DAD WORKED 3 JOBS
Paul Randazzo once worked three jobs: Production line at Westinghouse during the day, A&P; cutting meat at night, a poultry stand at a farmer's market on weekends.
Later, he sold used cars seven days a week. He got Ron into the business, but quickly realized his mistake. Ron kept giving away sets of tires and promising customers the sky.
"I had to stop him from making any deals," his father said, laughing, and then crying. "He was a very tender-hearted kid. If you needed a dollar and he had a nickel, he'd go out and borrow 95 cents in his name and give you the dollar."
Paul Randazzo now is a manager at Stursa Equipment in Glen Burnie. His division sells and services heavy equipment for such things as crushing stone in quarries.
Four of his boys served in the National Guard, and his daughter, Alice, is married to John Brass, a Marine corporal on the USS Shreveport in the gulf.
Ron joined the National Guard in 1984, the summer before his senior year at Glen Burnie High. His three older brothers -- George, Ken and Michael -- had joined the Guard before him. After George and Ken joined, even their father signed up.
Ron quickly matured in the Guard. Until then he was always the jokester, never taking anything too seriously. He was also "a runt," his father said, always getting pushed around by his older brothers.
But after basic training, he started lifting weights. He filled out and became kind of macho. He often wore his camouflage pants and shirt. He even bought a camouflage tacklebox. His friends called him "Ronbo."
"All of a sudden he could take care of himself," his father said. "He knew what he could do, so he didn't have to prove it to anybody."
LAST HOME IN JULY
Ron joined the regular Army in 1987. He was home for the last time in July for his sister's wedding. His hitch was almost up.
There's a video of the reception. Whenever Ron shows up, he's dancing with a different woman. Ron was single and never had a steady girl, his brothers said.
Before the gulf war started, Ron had planned to leave the Army. When he was home, he enrolled at Anne Arundel Community College. He even persuaded the Army to let him out a month early, in September instead of October, so he could start school on time.
He wanted to study law-enforcement and eventually join the FBI. His mother and father planned on remodeling the second floor of their house for him.
He was sending home $200 of his salary each month -- $100 for his mother and $100 for his schooling. He had told his father he wanted to buy a piece of land in Pennsylvania so they could go hunting and fishing.
But once he got to Saudi Arabia, his tour was extended.
He didn't write often, but his brief letters said generally: We've got to be here. If we don't stop this madman now, my children will have to come stop him later.
Over the telephone he told his father: "My job's here, Pop. The men are scared, and I'm their rock. I'll get them through."
One morning this week, sitting in an easy chair in his living room, Ron's father recounted these stories. His sons Ken and Paul were with him, and so was Sandi Dreyfus, Ron's aunt.
Ron's father recalled a funny story, and he would laugh. Then reality swept over him, and he would cry.
He remembered that Ron failed kindergarten, and he laughed.
"Yes, he did," he said. "I told him, 'Ronny, do you know you're the only guy in history who failed putting blocks up on top of blocks?'
"He looked at me and said, 'They do get kind of tough, Dad.' "
Ron's mother was going to stay away during the interview, but she came home, briefly, to show her husband a booklet their granddaughter -- Amber, 7, George's oldest child -- had made.
On the cover, in crayon, was the title: "Love!" Underneath the title Amber had drawn a big heart.
Page 1: "Do You Love Somewon? I Do." Page 2: "I love him verey much." Page 3: "The person loved me to." Page 4: "The person is dead." Page 5: "I am sad."
Most pages had a picture. On Page 5 Amber had little girl with tears running down her face.
On the next pages she wrote that her sisters are sad, and that her mom, dad and family are sad.
Then she drew a soldier in uniform, and then a coffin with a soldier inside, lying on his side as if he were asleep. On top of the coffin, she drew three black crosses.
Paul Randazzo turned each page. After regaining his composure he said the entire family, but especially the children, had decided what would go on Ron's tombstone. He showed his own drawing of a stone with the words:
In Defense of God, Country,
Family and the American Way.
He Gave His Life. Ronald Milton Randazzo.
Born 11/29/66. Went to the Lord 2/20/91.
"He was the kind of guy if you gave him a job to do, he'd do whatever he had to to get it done," his father said, haltingly. "He'd lay his life out first. . . . And he did. . . . Damn, he did. . . . And I'm proud of him."
The phone rang incessantly. Paul answered each call graciously.
"The outpouring of love has been unreal," said Sandi Dreyfus.
Sandi's co-workers at Saks Fifth Avenue in Owings Mills collected money for the family. The family decided to start a scholarship in Ron's name for a graduate of Glen Burnie High School interested in law enforcement.
"That'll keep his name so it'll never be forgotten," his father said.
The Queen Anne's County Desert Storm Support Group sent one red rose. Strangers called to say, "We're sorry. We're thinking of you."
Friends sent cards and flowers and food. Groups and organizations sent money, which went into the scholarship fund.
One phone call was from Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd. Referring to Saddam Hussein, Paul Randazzo told her: "We've got to take him down. He's got to come down."
Bentley had helped Randazzo send a telegram to President Bush, which said: Do what you've got to do. Don't let my son's death be in vain.
A few minutes later Paul got a call from someone in the Army. He hung up, again crying.
"They still can't tell me whether it's an open or closed casket," he said. "God, that kid . . . Jesus . . . 24."
The family also received a card from Bush. The president wrote that Ron had not died in vain, that soon the nightmare would be over and the killing would be stopped.
So now the war is over. The purple crocuses are blooming in the yard next to the Randazzos. And fishing season will soon be here for those returning from the war.
Ronald Milton Randazzo
% Born: Nov. 29, 1966.
Family: One of six children of Leona and Paul Randazzo of Glen Burnie. Brothers are George, Ken, Michael, Paul; sister is Alice Brass.
Graduated: Glen Burnie High School 1985
Joined: National Guard 1984, Army 1987
Died: Feb. 20, 1991